Like Words Together Reflections from the deep end of Practice.


The Gift of Comfort

I’m wearing a hoodie my wife gave me. She’s given me several over the years. When I’m feeling low one of her hoodies or one that she’s given me will help me feel comforted.

I was thinking the other day of my ex-husband, AP, who once took me on a shopping trip where he bought me a strapless party dress to wear out to an event he was taking me to. We had a polyamorous marriage and over the years I watched him repeat this act with other women. I recently saw a social media post that referenced that this is still something he does.

It was not a comfortable dress. It required a special bra and I was often worried about a “wardrobe malfunction”. I felt, as I was meant to, all dolled up. I made a great accessory, I was pleasant to look at and could decent conversation.

This felt so familiar. My Mother regularly dictated my clothing choices to me, either through manipulation or the financial control parents exert over children. When I’d display my own flair, she would copy me.

She had almost no boundaries and raised me to be afraid of establishing any with her.

I was folding hoodies on Sunday, putting away the laundry, and thinking of all the gifts she’s given me over the years. There’s been purely ornamental, decorative items, artwork, beautiful scarves, and jewelry. Many really clever, helpful, thoughtful tools and toys. Art supplies, even adding out to her wedding vows to keep me stocked! Many comforting, comfortable things, like hoodies.

Gifts of comfort, gifts to bolster me on hard days*, gifts to build up my creative side. The gift of supporting my non-lucrative second career. Gifts that demonstrate how much attention she gives my happiness.

Not gifts to turn me into a suitable ornament.

*The image is the gift she gave me this past Tuesday, after a tough session of trauma therapy. These are sleeves for our Magic cards, I like arty ones. This “Easter Dragon” is adorable!


Willingness Gratitude

I've had another tough day, so much so that I've really had to start writing to figure out my gratitude for today. For a moment I thought it might be the fact that tomorrow is another day and I can put this day to rest. However, as I wrote a little bit, it occurs to me that I'm grateful for my willingness to unlearn old patterns of behavior that now, at age 48, really hold me back from flourishing personally, professionally, and in my relationships with the people I love.

Sometimes I really feel like a badly programmed robot.

Having been an isolated, only child and my Mother's predilection for moving nearly every year of school, I often am left feeling that I'm lacking in communication skills. Beyond the isolation of being an only child, my Mother used "grounding" as a frequent form of punishment, limiting me to my bedroom except to go to school and the bathroom. I believe I often would even get a plate fixed in the kitchen and eat by myself in my bedroom. I never thought of sneaking out as a teen, by then I was too afraid of her to even consider trying it.

People who know me primarily as a yoga teacher might be surprised to know that I don't feel like I'm great at communicating. In my years in technology my communications skills were always credited as a contributing reason for promotions, raises, and bonuses. In the realm of more public communication, those connections that feel a little less personal and intimate, I'd say my skills are better than average.

My teacher likes to use the phrase, "Professional Extrovert", which is pretty apt. I can be fairly easy with a group of people in front of me, but one-on-one interactions often feel so much harder and I'll find myself thinking, "How do real humans do this connection shit?!". In the worst case scenarios I freeze up and fall back into old patterns of behavior that don't really help in the present day, and often create more problems.

Knowing it, being aware of it, and being any good at stopping it are all every different parts of the work to do to change behavior. I'm still on the first two and trying to figure out how to get good at stopping it instead of stopping it through painful communication failures. How do I reprogram the routines that convince me that quiet retreat and productivity are the answer, because they always did improve things for my abusive Mother?

Today it feels like there are no answers, however, I am willing to keep digging into the mess of it all, to do the rewiring of old patterns.



Big Changes

Now that teacher training has wrapped up the Next Big Change has time to manifest.

AM had mentioned that he was pretty much transitioning to his flat. All of the anxiety and grief I've felt once the distraction of teacher training was done began to feel intolerable. The fear about sesshin next week began to feel overwhelming. On top of all that I was now worried about Zonker and Phoebe being alone that much. I had gone to check on them on Saturday night after AM moved his furniture out and felt awful leaving them to go back over to CK's flat.

Teaching yoga on Sunday barely lifted me out of it. Quite often teaching is so grounding it helps me move through fear. We ate some lunch, I talked with my Mom, and CK and I decided suddenly to just start her move. My move back into my house again.

We got her essentials, including Atari, moved over and started working on things. The futon sofa from the meditation room is now out in the living room. A chair I had is up from the basement (courtesy of Sangha members who helped AM move) and it looks nice from what we can tell amidst the bags being unpacked.

There's a lot to be done. Much more than I had anticipated, but we'll work through it together. Already we both feel so much better with us being here. Zonker and Phoebe are so much happier with us here. Atari is getting curious after 2 and a half days alone in what will become CK's home office. Her plants make the space look great even in the chaos. The weight of the fear feels far less oppressive.


Sunny September Sunday

Whew! What a busy few days. I feel really tired and energized at the same time. Mentally I'm zooming a little but I feel the physical intensity of the past few days. AM and I are watching Jools Holland, which we DVR, Toots and the Maytals played as did Jet, from Australia. We had the leftover pumpkin curry for dinner along with some flat crackers toasted with tomatoes, olive tapenade and some red onions. It was a nice, simple meal and we talked a lot while getting things together.

Today my class ended up running a little late, but no one really seems to mind and the class was a lot of fun. Two students from last year returned after a long break bringing two friends with them. One person completely new to yoga, one who remembered taking Kundalini yoga classes many years ago. Another returning student from this summer, R who gave me such a compliment a few weeks ago when I was having a very difficult, vulnerable day. And CK, something that brings me a great pleasure; I feel a rush of warm emotions when I see her on her mat.

The energy was very good, lots of questions, and I was just enjoying it so much I was surprised to find we were still doing standing posed and it was at the end of class time! I didn't feel too bad since class had got to a late start. R had asked for plank and side plank, which was great since I was really looking forward to teaching going up into adhomukha svanasana from plank pose. This was one of the things from teacher training that I really wanted to try with my class. I was pleased to see how much better each person's pose looked, even the brand new person!

CK and I rode back to her place afterward and were able to continue our conversation from a little better place. The yoga practice burning off some of the energy and grounding us both. It was easier although still deep and touching places that hurt. We had more soup and just hung out talking to each other. Occasionally taking breaks and talking on other topics, but still keeping connected.

We lay down together, just touching and talking. CK brought up an idea she had, that perhaps we investigate adding Tantra to our shared practices, to our relationship. It ties very closely to our Hatha yoga and Zen practices and might be useful in discovering how to feel safe in intimacy together. As she told me this I'd been laying there thinking that maybe before we go to bed we should actually sit together, meditate.

I mentioned this and she asked if we could touch. When she said that I was struck with the idea of sharing a cushion so we could sit with our backs completely touching. We tried this, each perched on one side of a flat, bed pillow. We slowly let ourselves lean into each other and sat for a few moments. It was wonderful feeling the warm length of her against the whole of my back, knowing the sensation of her breath as well as my own.

It isn't exactly a path through the rocky shoals of intimacy that shows up in anything we've read, but it is something I think valuable to explore. I recall one book suggesting an exercise to sit with you hand on your partner's heart, but the arm would quickly grow tired and it seemed a little awkward even though I like being able to lie next to CK with my hand on her heart.

There was something so deeply connected feeling in sitting with my back to her, and that was just a in the few moments of trying out the idea of sharing a cushion. I feel like it could be deeply intimate sitting for many minutes that way, in zazen. Our backs touching and sharing the movement of breath while our minds did the work of settling into the silence.

We lay stretched out on the bed after zazen together. Outside there was a block party with live music. It was a warm, sunny early September afternoon and we found ourselves enjoying each other while a jazz guitar and female vocalist came in through the open windows. CK noted, as we were lying there enjoying the day and the music that it felt natural to be together.

Sitting with my back to hers for those moments, feeling her so deeply, helped to ground me in how strong of a relationship we're building. That helped the feelings of desperation and hopelessness subside. When those things settle it lets the tension around intimacy subside.


Rain and Progess

I woke up feeling so tired today, still not rested from the weekend. This evening I still feel fatigued, although the yoga class tonight was fun. Due to questions from the students we ended up really looking at utthita trikonasana and ardha chandrasana. I don't often spend a lot of time on just two poses, but afterward everyone said they understood the poses better.

I also made some progress on my configuration of php5 at work! I've been fighting to get this right since may, finally figuring out how to do some of the Red Hat package installation myself and just loading a missing piece I needed. I need to add a pear package and I should actually be somewhat working again.

AM is lying next to me on the new, big sofa downstairs. We had leftover soup after I rode home from yoga. Walked over to CK's once class was done since my bike was still there. AM offered to come get me and the bicycle, but I really had wanted to try riding in the rain.

CK came downtown this afternoon and we went to Habibi again. We talked about her day yesterday, the frustration at the unprofessional behavior and how it is personal. Other than that tension and general career stress it felt for a little while like other tension was a little less. We sat in O'Bryant Square spending a little more time before I had to head in to join a meeting.

I'm still recognizing that Saturday was scary, neither of us felt supported by the other when we really needed it. Neither of us was capable of offering support beyond what was holding us up. We've never had something like that happen before and it felt very overwhelming.

I'm glad I went over there Sunday and we were able to just lay together and have it feel safe. Just the intimacy of holding each other and feeling safe is so important. I know I can only practice with the times I wake up in a panic there, anticipating punishment, and have to force myself to look around the room, listen to her breathing, and return to the present, knowing I'm safe there.


Saint Monday

I went over to CK's last night around 8pm, riding over in the twilight. The air was cooling rapidly and I stopped to pull on something with sleeves. We managed to have a quiet, close night which felt so necessary after Saturday. I had planned to write about my thoughts, but we were lying together in bed and I didn't want to disturb that closeness.

It was a sweet, intimate moment before sleeping. We lay close, foreheads touching at times, while I stroked her hair, neck and face. Occasionally she'd reach out to rest her hand on my leg or side or press a kiss to some part of me, forehead, shoulder, lips. She said this morning that it had felt calming and safe, likely why she slipped into sleep so quickly.

We both had come to see Saturday as a cascade of my being overwhelmed, triggered by my grief. The grief and shame left me beyond the ability to observe what was happening around me. How unsettling this might be for CK, especially when she wasn't feeling up to the effort of being around a gathering and was trying to force herself to get through it. When I felt myself starting to panic, lying there next to her falling asleep I sat up and tried to focus on the facts. It was hard to keep a hold of them and not slide into unreasonable fear at my needing her and feeling like I was unsupported.

I finally was able to settle into doing metta practice, just focusing on the two of us and my breath. That we be free of our anxiety and fear, free of shame, free of anger, free of suffering, and that we be happy. I did this in between the times I would call the contingency planning hot line every 30 minutes for updates on the negotiations, dozing a little here and there.

Finally at 1:08AM the hot line reported that an agreement had been reached. CK woke up briefly as I was really trying to settle to sleep finally. I told her there news, unset my early alarm, and lay down. She stroked my neck and shoulders a little, dropping a kiss between them, and I again felt the intimacy of the moment, the comfort.

She awoke anxious. I awoke disoriented and exhausted through and through. The weather quickly turned into a loud thunderstorm. The claps rattling the whole flat. Atari fled and hid at first under the tub and when CK wanted to shower he hid under the sofa. When the rain came, hard, the wind blew it into the open windows which she rushed to close up.

As per normal on Mondays I did not get done what I wanted to be working on -- the error Apache gives when trying to load the PHP5 module. I ended up mostly working on reports and account issues in the new change control tool. I'd helped do a requirements meeting for some reports and having put together the notes from the meeting I wanted to work on the reports and views while it was all still fresh in my head.

Around 4:25 CK messaged me that she'd been told she was no longer going to be involved with a project. It was done in an unprofessional, indirect way, which made it even worse. Yes, I'm biased, but even if I were not I'd still find that it was not handled in a mature way. I feel such a protective emotion rise up in me when she's hurt or mistreated. There is a part of me that finds it a little silly since part of the reason I respect and love CK is her ability to take care of herself, she certainly doesn't need my protection. Regardless of that I would protect her from hurt if I were able to.

I had felt that while lying there in the dark keeping my anxiety at bay with metta practice. I have been so hurt in my past that I just want to be able to tell the world to go the hell away, pull up a big blanket to hide under. It is absolutely absurd and it is our interaction with the world that enriches us. But in feeling the hurt, all of it, there is part of me that just wants to say, "Enough!"

AM made soup, exactly the kind of meal I love when I'm tired. I sent CK a message that she was welcome to come have some, and hugs, if she wanted to. I know that both she and I withdraw when we hurt, that asking for comfort is terribly difficult if not impossible. When I spoke with her I was happy to hear that having that option was helpful to her.


Mere Moments

My co-workers pleasantly surprised me today. I'd been asked for input on a team appreciation lunch that some of them were working on. I said the vegan items sounded tasty, but very low in protein. When I eat that way at team events I'm often famished by the end of the day, which is bad since a few nights a week I'm going to a yoga class pretty soon after leaving work. Lunch was set up and I found that the organizers had changed the salads to include a three bean type salad as well as a chick pea & couscous salad! Lots of healthy protein and I felt really touched that they made that effort for me.

I finally made something that felt like progress on getting some software installed on the test/dev web server. Although the systems group was loading what I asked for, they would fail to load any of the related dependencies. Once this was done, I was able to configure and make the software install. It was a nice note to end the day on although it has gone so poorly for so long that I'm a little afraid I'll find something else wrong tomorrow!

I met CK over at Prananda for class this evening, biking over from the house and making it there before her. It was a small, quiet class today with one new person joining us. I'd missed classes with JW and it was nice having a fairly easy class in the cool, cinder block building. I was rewarded by getting feedback that the alignment of my shoulders and hips has been improving tremendously!
When I felt a little rush of relief at CK kissing me I realized the tension I'd been hanging onto since she went home on Sunday. After weeks of tension I've been feeling I'm enjoying spending the evening with her having dinner and some nice wine. We've talked about systems work, I've even been able to provide a couple of ideas, which feels great. There is just a feeling of finding our way back to the comfort with one another we had established.
When I feel like I lose my way, especially for weeks at a time, it begins to feel like that the comfort in our relationship was illusory.My PTSD triggers can feel so overwhelming, blinding that seeing that we're still here and together seems nearly impossible. We both have a protective tendency to withdraw in our own ways and are having to learn how to trust that it is OK to leave some openness.
And I guess for me it is time to add working on that shame into my practice. I've been coasting on the fact that my therapist and Zen teacher have said I'm good working on the grief, the feelings of injustice. I've known this is big, in the back of my mind I've known for years.
At times I almost find it incredulous that mere moments in my childhood have caused such deep, lasting pain. I think of myself as resourceful and resilient, but these moments have to potential to utterly overwhelm me as an adult. The echos of emotion around them stagger me now and I'd like to think that I'm bigger than them. But they are momentous. It only goes to prove how important each and every moment is because even minutes of trauma can reach forward across years.

Injustice feels like tar

I haven't felt as much of the anger-buzz today. Tonight the discussion group at the Dharma center was on anger, the many types of it. As much as it sounded like a good evening to go since I've had this connection around it, recognizing the different ways it shows up, what I have mostly felt today is tired. It hasn't seemed to matter how much I might sleep, I'm still tired.

Tried to have my yoga class do a challenging pose tonight to end class, half handstand, but discovered that my hips and psoas were so tight I couldn't do the pose well. I think I'm feeling the lift-ups I was doing last night on the inversion table. I hadn't felt the affects of the exertion in the body until I was doing yoga this evening.

It was a good lesson regardless. the pose was difficult for everyone, as I knew it would be. Each person in the classroom discovered a different challenge to the pose. We each tried, came down, rested. I'm not sure if it helped that I had a difficult time, maybe it did. Maybe sometimes it is good to see the teacher struggle too.

I am still working out how to write about my hopes for a new home for my Zen community. I am trying to write about my views for having a space that becomes even more inclusive of people. Our sangha growing not only because of a physical space to contain us, but because we open further to see how the Dharma is lived through other ways.

I feel uncomfortable about the idea of writing about why this is so important to me. I feel the discomfort of opening up to so many people in my community about being queer and being in a state of transition from one relationship to a new one. Of course it is bigger than just that, it includes how our community grows to support several Burmese refugees regardless of of a lack of commonality over tradition, language, or religion (they are Christian). The excitement over it has included talk of Montessori classes for children, space for other groups to meet, maybe yoga classes. I just haven't felt my way with writing about it, beyond a few sentences.

There is a sticky, psychic sensation I have. When I consider the past I mostly find myself feeling the injustice of it which gives rise to the irritation buzzing in my mental space. I try to look at it and the emotions are thick, like tar -- hot, sticky, the stuff that dragged dinosaurs to their death. It seems impossible to do much with them. I don't know if there is anything that can be done with them, everything I think was unfair really was. I'm not exaggerating, my childhood was not just or right. Nothing actually changes that or fixes it. Maybe that's why it seems so tar-like. It isn't something that can be wiped away.

It is mixed in there in the terrible, wonderful rush of emotion that seems to come up at times during intimacy. I tried to put words to it -- how in the midst of pleasure I am just overwhelmed with all the grief, the injustice, the anger, and fear. At the same time I was equally feel an absolute outpouring of joy, truth, connection, and love. I feel blessed and amazed that she sees the burst of sobbing that results as just an indicator of the depth of the release.

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Building Bonds

Today started with a little jolt. CK could sense something wasn't alright with me and we talked up about it until we had to get up to get ready to go to yoga class. I was feeling better by that time, although it was still a little frustrating to have to go back to the schedule of the day.

I find myself struck at how quickly she reads me, although she has often told me that it is the same feeling for her. To me the changes in her energy are so readily apparent, so immediately that it is difficult to imagine people not noticing when it happens. It really does support my Practice considerably to have loved ones who keep me present, who don't let me close up around my pain and fear into silence.

After yoga she and I went to the Coder's Summer Social at Laurelhust Park. When we went into yoga it was chilly and cloudy, by the time we changed at her flat the sun had come out and it was warming up. We had fun hanging out with local members of the Open Source community, ate yummy food and played an 8-hand game of Fluxx (pretty silly with that many people).

We headed back to her flat and ended up working on putting together some of the furniture we'd picked out at IKEA yesterday. Got the bed made, moved stuff and set to putting together the dresser. After putting nearly all of the drawers together we were looking forward to how to put on the rails. I realized, with my stomach dropping away, that we'd done them nearly ALL wrong.

I felt terrible. I'd been the one looking at the directions and missed that the sides were supposed to be turned the other way. Because of the plastic screws, which are a hammered in, we couldn't just take them all apart. I could feeling myself cringing, waiting to be yelled out or frozen out.

Instead we just swore over it. Put the last one together correctly. Drilled holes in another and put the rails on; it worked perfectly. I sat an on the floor drawing circles for the drilling to be done on the rest of the drawers. I was screwing in the rails when AM showed up to help haul away the old desk, shelves and giant cardboard.

It has struck me how we hit this bump tonight -- making a big mistake putting something together. Despite my reaction, my waiting for punishment of some sort, everything was just fine. We just got on with what needed to be done to fix it and it was no one's fault, or at the very least it was shared fault that didn't really matter. We both want to and are committed to getting past bumps in our road together. She talks to me, openly, even when it is hard and helps me to do the same when I get stuck on communicating and slide into silence.


Hit Pause, This Feels Wrong

I talked to my therapist today about the struggle around intimacy I've felt in my relationship. I told her how I'm really not angry I just feel a bit lost and miss the feeling of connection on that level. I immediately burst into the tears that were just barely contained this morning.

She summed it up perfectly by noting that she imagined, given all the things she knows about from the the years we've been working together, that I must be feeling abandoned. Part of it is the newness of the relationship, we're still fitting together so withdrawal feels very big and scary. Once it was stated that way I could see how it certainly triggers old programming -- the numerous times in childhood and into adulthood I'd become attached to someone they would either change & hurt me or we'd move away & I would lose that connection. It feels so big that it is very hard not to feel like it is my fault regardless of being assured it isn't.

What I'm also finding really difficult is that being reassured, reminding myself of my accomplishments, sometimes doesn't make me feel better. In the rush of relief there is also a flood of absolute grief and the shaky realization of just how much shame, guilt is in there. CK made a point this morning to remind me that the distance we feel right now isn't anything I've done and I felt tears heat up my eyes. Same as when AM makes sure I know he is OK, that he isn't angry with me. I'm just shaking inside with relief and the realization that I'd fallen back into preparing to be punished. Yes, it is so good and helpful to hear these assurances from my loved ones, but it also seems to expose a raw hurt that I'm not entirely sure what to do with.

My therapist gave additional suggestions to my idea that I should distrust my first emotional response. She said I should just hit pause in those moments so I can really check in. She also thinks that in that pause I need to remind myself of my accomplishments, how those things are true and whatever rush of anxiety or fear I'm experiencing is based in the bad information I was given as an impressionable child. AM commented that I can also remind myself how I'd felt afraid in the past and needn't have been.

I finally voiced the anger I was feeling. I resent that the rest of my life will be filled with moments where I have to question myself, rein in the emotional response, and correct it. Like having to do some chore, vacuuming, at unexpected moments, for the rest of my life. Yes, with practice it will become easier, but it will always be there and it is so damn unfair. In these feelings I hear my 11 year-old voice, sobbing out the words, "This is so unfair!" to an angry mother who refused to hear any other viewpoint, would not hear any words I spoke.